This summer’s special supplement to the Atlantic reads, “The Dialogue Economy, Social Media and the Marketplace” and contains multiple stories on how the power has shifted to the consumer and how companies are learning to engage with customers in dialogue. The magazine has many examples of how the Internet has changed the relationship between those traditionally with power (corporations, government) and those without. For example, Molly Katchpole took on Bank of America’s debit card fee and Verizon’s debit card convenience charge using social media, including change.org, and had an incredible amount of influence.
Allstate insurance company has been conducting surveys they call Heartland Monitor designed to keep a pulse on middle-class America. This special issue included the results of the most recent Heartland Monitor XIII: Networked Nation. The poll focused on “how technology and social media are transforming the relationship between individuals and institutions” and found significant influence. According to this poll 64% of Americans are active on social media and those people are more likely to be involved in political and community activity. Fifty-five percent of polled social media users indicated that online access to information made it easier for them to research and compare candidates, and 54% indicated it has given them more influence with institutions.
The Deloitte 2011 Shift Index, Impact Index included the Consumer Power Metric, measuring the relationship and relative power between consumers and vendors. Consumer Power is increasing in almost every category of the past few years.
As this shift of power to the consumer happens, institutions are changing their ways. Listening more. Using unidirectional communication less. The Dialogue Economy issue shared how Fortune 500 companies are using social media to engage in dialogue with consumers. Coca-Cola has the most Facebook friends with 42.1 million likes, followed by Starbucks at 30.2 million and McDonalds at 19.8 million. Google has the most Twitter followers with 4.7 million, followed by Whole Foods at 2.6 million and Starbucks at 2.5 million. These Fortune 500 companies are using social media channels to say ‘thanks’ and ‘sorry’, in addition to promoting themselves, according to an analysis of 24,000 recent tweets. So, there is definitely dialogue between consumer and institutions. But, it is really changing the power equation?
Ralph Nader, king of consumer protests, doesn’t believe the power is actually shifting. He does agree that it is much easier for consumers to get comparative information and that gives them power with their pocket books to make informed choices about their purchases. Yet, corporations have all the power in over the government and, therefore, real change cannot happen. Although consumers get temporarily riled over an issue and create a small change, such as the Bank of America debit fee, Nader doesn’t see consumers sticking with a significant issue long enough to make lasting change.
I see his point. I agree that much of the dialogue on social media seems trivial. But, I also believe that many little changes can add up. Consumers do have a voice in a way not previously possible. We as consumers need to use this voice in order to effect long-term change.